Posted inVideos

Going Back To The Source: In order to see the ground {VIDEO Clip}

November 10, 2014

This is the 3rd short video clip (4:32) from the conversation between Stephen Batchelor and Henry Shukman, on June 4, 2014, at the Mountain Cloud Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico on “Going Back to the Source.” 

The entire talk’s video (1:03:15) can also be viewed on our YouTube channel.

Their dialogue covers : Eastern and Western thought, the great doubt, dismantling of knowing, ancient greeks and buddhism, zen and classical philosophy, seeing with clarity, humanist enlightenment in the west, roots of being human, Zen’s transitional phase, like mindedness, sharing an identity with everything that lives, and releasing our reactivity. In their view, we arrive at the single source from many paths.

In this clip Stephen talks about Buddha’s recounting of his awakening and clarification/elaboration of the term “nirvana?” 

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Stephen Batchelor: … … in the Pali text where the Buddha recounts his awakening; … he says that it’s very difficult for people who love, delight and revel in their place to see this ground, the ground of conditioned arising, contingency, life and to see this ground, nirvana, which is the falling away of reactivity.

So … he does not describe his awakening in terms of coming to know something. The word “to know” … doesn’t occur in this passage.

The awakening is described, on the one hand, as a coming to see something and on other hand—and I think this is probably the main point—as a radical shift in perspective.In other words, a shift in perspective from where one is preoccupied with what we call “your place”—and by that …

it means everything we identify with, you know, your nation, your social position, your belief system, your political views—as long as you’re preoccupied with that stuff, you cannot see your ground.

So the Buddha’s awakening was not a sudden revelation, a privileged knowing about the nature of reality. He doesn’t mention that at all.

He talks about letting go of a certain kind of preoccupation with “me” and “my stuff” and “my position” in order to see the ground—one’s own ground, the ground, as it were, of life, of being itself.

And that ground is twofold. On the one hand, it’s the process of contingency and life itself, which of course is not actually much like a ground at all. If anything, it’s a groundless ground. It’s, again, this idea of something total drops away. Your sense of position and certainty, it falls away.

And what you fall into is not some other permanent state, like, you know, God or something; but contingency itself, which is bottomless, which is fluid, which is constantly unfolding and that ground is seen from the perspective of this very difficult term, …

… nirvana, which here simply means the stopping of reactivity, the stopping of grasping and hating and fearing. And that, to me, is very close, in fact, to what you just said about your Zen master.

So, to me, the traditions meet in these kind of fundamental experiences. And the history of Buddhism, in a sense, the history of consolidating those views till they become so sort of rigid and fixed that they cease to serve their function any longer and that brings up a countermovement.

And the origins of Chan, Zen in China, are basically a return to the source. They’re a dropping of the Buddhist metaphysics, of all of the power structures of these great monasteries, and they’re returning to exactly what the Buddha did all those years ago: just sit down and come to terms with who you are, what is going on and that’s, I think, both the alpha and the omega, to use Christian terminology, of the whole practice.


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Stephen Batchelor is a contemporary Buddhist teacher and writer, best known for his secular or agnostic approach to Buddhism. Stephen considers Buddhism to be a constantly evolving culture of awakening rather than a religious system based on immutable dogmas and beliefs. Click here for his Full BIO.

Henry Shukman is head teacher at Mountain Cloud Zen Center. Click here for his full BIO.

This video clip is from : Going Back to the Source : A conversation with Stephen Batchelor and Henry Shukman, Produced by Chris Hebard, Filmed by Luke Fitch (, copyright

This conversation, and the video, is presented by Stillness Speaks in association with Tricycle and Mountain Cloud Zen Center.

Full transcript of the conversation can be found at Tricycle by clicking here.

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